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An Interview with Paul Bence

Paul Bence  (paulbence on Tumblr) is a street photographer whose main hunting grounds are the streets of London. I have been a follower of his work for some time and was lucky enough to get an interview with him over Christmas.


Your pictures are mainly close-ups of people in urban settings. How do you go about choosing your subject and composing your shot?

Paul - London is one of those cities that has millions of people who go about their daily grind without noticing each other. For the most part, people keep to themselves. To me, that’s an alien experience. I’m from a small town in South Wales where you can’t cross the road without someone saying hello. It means that I am drawn to this isolation and when choosing the people I photograph, I often try and capture some of this disconnection from the real world; people lost in their own subconscious.

Otherwise, I am driven by the emotion projected by the people I see. It is often a fairly impulsive decision to capture a particular person – and it is usually because I feel there will be something recognisably human and resonant in the image.

Finally, I suppose I am also attracted by originality – if it is something that I haven’t seen before, I hope it will be a subject that will intrigue other people.

With regard to composing the shot, I suppose I am most concerned with light and shadow. Contrast underpins composition and I find that I jump on any shafts of light breaking darkness that I come across – be that light from a shop window or a reflection in a bus stop.

Your style appears to be quite confrontational - do you ever encounter problems with the people you photograph?

I don’t actually – I will get the odd look or someone may hold up their hand. Once I had my photo taken which was quite exciting but on the whole people seem to be caught up in there own heads and rarely even realise a picture has been taken.

It is interesting that you say my style appears confrontational. I suppose it does look that way from the outside looking in but I now find the space I take pictures in to be quite a comfortable one. Its those moments in those spaces that I get the picture I’m after and once you get over the fear, you realise it’s a picture. Just a picture. It’s a little bit like that ride that as a kid you are terrified of. You might not go on it for months but once you do, you want to do it again immediately and a hundred times over.

To get close has been a bit of a journey. I feel there is an intimacy with my shots and I’m almost breaking into personal space for a millisecond in time. So that’s what I try and do - get into personal space by deception or by guile but hopefully before I’m noticed. Unlike a lot of photographers, eye contact is really important to me and I won’t pull away when they turn and face the camera. I’ll hold my position and maybe use the focus on the left or right of the frame and I have become quite good at giving the impression that I am actually photographing something else.

Your camera of choice is a rather large professional DSLR. Why did you choose this for street photography?

I’ve had a lot of camera’s since I started in photography and I know some people find the weight and the size of a DSLR a problem but I have no issue with it. I’ll only go out with a 35mm or 50mm lens which keeps it fairly light.

Also, it’s a brilliant camera in lowlight and I love shooting at night. I’ve just finished working on street campaign for Ministry of Sound and I had to shoot in the club for 6 weeks with no flash and not once did the camera let me down. I love my D3s….simply because it does what it’s meant to…

It seems you favorite focal length is 35mm. Is this the best for urban shots?

I’ve only recently migrated to the 35mm and still shoot a lot of stuff on the 50mm. It just depends on what your after. 35mm being a bit wider gives you more of the scene but sometimes that means getting a bit too close. 50mm is probably my favorite lens just for the versatility of it and the fact that with a shallow aperture it creates a wonderful depth of field.

Do you have any interesting stories to tell about your photographic adventures?

I’ve been shouted at, chased, called obscenities and talked to by numerous security guards. Essentially, every time you step out on the street something will happen. An old lady may talk to you, a stranger may say hello or a shopkeeper might want to talk kit…You can never predict it and that’s why I love it!!


Check out Paul’s work:

Paul Bence is also available for Portfolio Reviews. If interested, you can find his contact information on his website.


Interview by Tony Lebroq

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